One of the character traits emphasized in Kilgore Middle School’s “Fish Philosophy” is “Be There,” and KMS Principal April Cox intends for her students and staffers to follow through on that commitment.
As schools in the Texas Gulf Coast region rebuild after Hurricane Harvey, Cox found a Facebook page for “Principals Helping Principals” where leaders of affected schools can request help. From there, schools from across the state and country have stepped up to meet those needs.
Kilgore Middle School has taken charge of helping Nelda Sullivan Middle School in Pasadena ISD.
In about 48 hours, KMS was able to collect boxes of canned goods, school supplies and bags of pillows to take down to the school. The trailer of donations will leave Monday morning to meet with Nelda Sullivan administrators that afternoon.
In addition to donations brought in by KISD students and families, Cox said, businesses including The Office Center, Walmart and Gabriel Jordan chipped in to help Nelda Sullivan rebuild.
“We didn’t call and ask, but they wanted to help,” she said. “We decided that we wanted to do this, but then have them join in with us. That’s what makes an event so successful is to have other people’s help, to get the word out to provide those resources. That just helps it grow. It is an effort that is done by many, and I don’t think that it can be done alone. I know it cannot be done alone. It takes lots of people. To have a vision and see it play out is pretty cool.”
Equipped with her late dad’s truck and trailer, Cox said, she and others will make the 200-mile drive to Nelda Sullivan Middle School to deliver the collected items.
Cox called the moment “bittersweet” because of the loss of her dad and stepdad in a span of three months.
“He would have been right here in the middle of it and my stepdad as well… Both of them taught me, really, the heart of giving,” she said.
The fifth and sixth grade school appears to be similar to KMS, Cox said. According to Texas Education Agency statistics, Nelda Sullivan had 668 students enrolled during the 2016-2017 school year, while KMS had 890 students in sixth through eighth grades.
KMS is one of many schools across the state and the country who have expressed an interest in helping affected schools. The offer to help has come from more fortunate Houston area schools, Fort Worth, College Station, Bryan and Pflugerville.
However, Cox said, “The neat part is seeing Illinois, Missouri, Georgia, Virginia, Florida… They’re all over. The United States is joining together.”
The unprecedented storm – Hurricane then Tropical Storm Harvey – slammed the areas of Port Aransas and Rockport with 130-plus mph winds and dropped trillions of gallons of rain on the Gulf Coast region of the state, earning it the distinction of the worst flooding event to hit the continental United States.
“We all are left with that feeling and need to want to do something,” she said, “and this is just an opportunity that our students, staff and community can assist a hurting school.”
In an email exchange with Nelda Sullivan Middle School Principal Kelly Cook-Costley, Cox found out that not only have people lost their belongings and, in some cases, their homes, but also two students lost their lives in the catastrophic flooding.
Cox’s grandmother Melba Purser traveled from Bossier City to help bring supplies, the truck, trailer and just to support the school.
“It’s wonderful,” she said about the idea of adopting devastated schools. “I can feel for those people. I just can’t imagine not having anything left, not anything. It’s just heartbreaking. We’re just glad to be able to help with the trailer… This all belonged to April’s dad and my daughter. If he were still alive, he’d be right in the middle of this.”
To help provide for the students and employees at the fifth and sixth grade school, Cook-Costley requested “Clothing, toiletries, food/water, blankets, pillows, ANYTHING!”
After the initial trip to Pasadena Monday, the school will add other needs to the list as requested. Cox plans to have two phases to their help with the first serving to meet the immediate needs of the Nelda Sullivan community. The next phase will provide long-term needs once those needs are determined after the school reopens.
“The reality is the backpacks or whatever that these children had at home weren’t their items they wanted to save. They’re not on a list of high priority,” she said. “Those are going to need to be provided for them again. When I saw pillows and blankets, that’s just hard.”
After putting out the call for supplies Wednesday afternoon, Cox said, the donations really started mounting Friday with canned food items, school supplies, pillows and backpacks.
The response to the flooding has captured the nation’s attention as people have come together to save each other from the flood waters. Now, the response is being felt from across the state and country.
“Texas has shown the country really what we stand for, who we are: that we come together in times of need; that we help out others, no matter if they are from Texas or from somewhere else,” Cox said. “We feel like our purpose and what we want to instill within our students are these character lessons.”
One of those lessons is empathy.
“Academics is important, but what’s far more important are what’s happening outside of these classroom walls and how they can relate to what’s happening… Academics is, of course, the main priority, but we also are teaching them through character skills and all of those real world experiences that a textbook doesn’t provide,” she said.